By Paul Goodman
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Ring ring. Ring ring.
David Gauke (Answers phone): Gauke speaking.
George Osborne: David, George here.
Osborne: Sorry to bother you, but…some bad news, I'm afraid.
Gauke: Sorry to hear it. Is it Boris again?
Osborne (Worried): Boris?
Gauke: Yes, Boris.
Osborne (Alarmed): What have you heard?
Osborne: What's he done now? Called for Britain to leave the EU? Urged that Leveson be scrapped? (Voice rising.) What's his latest plot to deprive me of what one day should rightfully be mine…
Gauke (Puzzled): Nothing, as far as I know, Chancellor. It's just that you said that there's bad news, so I assumed…
Osborne (Relieved): Ah. Phew. All well then.
Gauke: Yes, sure, Chancellor, but…what's this bad news, then?
Osborne: Ah, yes. Well, now. (Coughs.) You remember that pasties VAT hike plan…
Gauke: Indeed, Chancellor. Of course. Why, I was defending it on Channel 4 News only yesterday evening –
Osborne (Hurriedly): – Yes…er…yes, you were brilliant.
Gauke (Pleased): Really…did you see it?
Osborne (Pause): Er, no. Well, not exactly. Busy evening. Frances's book launch…phone call from Dick Cheney…urgent meeting with Frank Lampard…all very difficult. But Rupert says you were great. And that's what matters.
Gauke: Thank you, Chancellor.
Osborne: Yes…yes…but…now, coming back to that pasties plan. (Pause.) There's a slight wrinkle.
Gauke (Worried): Wrinkle?
Osborne: Yes…Well, not quite a wrinkle. Not exactly a wrinkle. Let's call it an adjustment . A slight adjustment. Very slight. A refinement.
Gauke (Alarmed): A refinement?
Gauke: Chancellor…you don't mean…you can't mean, can you…? (Pause.) Chancellor, are you telling me…there's a U-turn?
Osborne (Pause): Well, I wouldn't exactly call it a U-turn. Not exactly. An J-turn, maybe. An S-turn, arguably. Perhaps an P-turn. I mean, it starts by going straight up, veers off to the right, then goes downwards, then goes left…and so ends up more or less where it started.
Gauke (Pause): So it is a U-turn.
Osborne (Pause. Then very quietly): Yes.
Gauke (Long pause): OK.
Gauke (Pause): I appreciate, Chancellor, that these decisions naturally cannot always be made in full consultation with every single member of the Treasury team…
Gauke: …And as you know I regard it as the duty of Treasury Ministers, regardless of their personal responsibility or otherwise for any individual decision, to go out and bat for the Department….
Gauke: …To face Paxman or Humphreys or Andrew Neil without fliching – however sticky the wicket may be…
Osborne: …That's my boy!…
Gauke: …To rise for Today pre-dawn and retire post-Newsnight after sunset. To face down the feral beast – whatever the consequences, whatever the cost…
Osborne: …Go, baby, go!
Gauke: So it's very brave of you, Chancellor, to offer to do all media appearances on this, er, what did you call it…wrinkle…adjustment –
Osborne: – Now then, David, that's exactly what I wanted to talk to you about.
Gauke (Grimly): Ah.
Osborne: Yes, you see, it's a very busy time. Frances's book launch –
Gauke: – You said that was yesterday –
Osborne (Stiffly): – Yes, but that was her private book launch. Today is her public book launch. Then there's the drop-in visit by George W.Bush. Tactics review with Peter Cech. Curry night with Liam Fox. Very busy time. So I'm afraid –
Gauke (Wearily): – Ok Chancellor. I get the message.
Osborne: Thank you, David.
Gauke: It's fine, it's fine. It's what we're here for.
Osborne: Deeply appreciated.
Gauke: We fight on.
Gauke: We fight to win.
Gauke: Just one thing.
Gauke: It's just that…I mean, obviously, I don't mind going out there and saying something that's, well, not exactly the same thing that we said yesterday, but…there can be a cost to these things, and – George?
Gauke: This is the last…I mean, there won't be any more, er, refinements …S-turns…will there now?
Osborne (Smoothly): Of course not.
Osborne: Perish the thought! The budget is set in stone!
Osborne: I mean…do you really think…how could you think…do you really think that I would do that to you?
Gauke: Of course not, Chancellor.
Osborne: Always remember, David: I'm right behind you.
Gauke: You have no idea how much reassurance your words convey to me, Chancellor.
Osborne: That's my boy!
(Line goes dead.)